Monday, May 31, 2010

Replacing Wheat and Gluten in Recipes

by Kelley Lindberg

What a treat I have for you today! Shelley, a gluten-free expert and frequent participant on the UFAN email forum, has graciously agreed to be my guest blogger today. She is continuing my series of allergen-replacements for recipes by writing today’s article on gluten-free cooking. You will LOVE what she has to say… Thank you, Shelley! Be sure to check out Shelley’s blog, at


To be honest, when my oldest son was first diagnosed with a wheat allergy (along with several other severe allergies), I had never heard of gluten. At the time, I was just a few weeks away from giving birth to my second child, who I was told was likely to have the same allergies as my son and my best bet was to avoid the top allergens while nursing her. I was totally overwhelmed.

Lucky for me, my mom was scheduled to come and visit and she just happened to have a degree in food science and nutrition. She knew exactly what gluten was and started reading everything she could get her hands on. I don’t know how we did it back then, before blogs and Google and everything we take for granted. She showed up at the airport with two huge suitcases (remember when you could take those on airplanes?) full of gluten-free cookbooks and bags and bags of gluten-free flours.

For the next 2 weeks we spent every day in the kitchen, trying every recipe in The Gluten-free Gourmet and making up our own. It took a lot of patience and a good sense of humor because more of our creations ended up in the garbage than in our tummies – but I learned a lot.

Flash forward four kids later, my youngest was done nursing and I was ready to start eating “normal” again, only to find out the hard way that the gluten issues weren’t entirely my kids’ problem. I immediately began having problems and my doctors realized for the first time in my life that gluten was my problem as well.

So here we are 11 years later, and with a house full of gluten-free eaters, I have some tips to share:

Tip #1 - Xanthan gum or guar gum
Gluten-free cooking just doesn’t happen without them. They are the glue that gluten-free flours are missing. Without them, the only thing your gluten-free baked goods will be good for is bread crumbs. A good rule of thumb is 1 tsp of xanthan or guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour in your recipe. If you are using eggs, you may not need as much, and if you are replacing eggs, you may need a bit more.

Tip #2 - Know your alternatives.
One of the cool things about gluten-free cooking is all the alternatives we have to regular old flour. With a little effort and creativity, gluten-free living really opens the doors to a healthier lifestyle than you probably had before.

**A word of warning - when trying any of these flours for the first time, use it in a pancake or something simple and watch for reactions. I try to rotate the flours I use and there are a few that just don’t work for us – but work great for many of my friends. Buy the small bag the first time and if you like it, go back and buy it in bulk!**

Gluten-free flours need cool dark storage; most store best in the freezer. I store many of the whole grains in sealed buckets and put the freshly ground flour in my freezer if I am not going through it fast enough.

Quinoa (pronounced Keen wa) – This is an ancient grain, really high in protein and high in amino acids. It adds structure to gluten-free breads. I use this a lot.

Amaranth – The seeds of this plant are also unusually high in protein and amino acids, adding flavor and structure to the dough.

Sorghum – A really popular grain, kind of sweet without much of an aftertaste.

Teff – High in dietary fiber, protein, calcium and iron, this is a nutritional powerhouse. It has a slightly sweet nutty flavor that adds a lot to gluten-free baking.

Buckwheat – Not a grain; it’s a fruit and has nothing in common with wheat other than the name. This is my favorite grain. It’s hearty, has a familiar taste, and adds lot of nutrition to your breads.

Millet – A fabulous source of the B vitamins, it does have a stronger flavor but combines well with other flours in baking. I use this quite often.

Brown Rice – I use this flour often, too – especially in cupcakes and other treats that I serve to unsuspecting wheat-eaters. It has a familiar taste and the whole grains offer fiber and vitamins. Using this flour entirely on its own results in a gummy-grainy texture, so always mix with another flour or starch to prevent this. You can also use white rice flour; it acts more like a starch and has little nutritional value, but certainly can be incorporated into gluten-free bread making if you choose.

Corn – Corn flour is much finer than corn meal, but it still tends to be a bit heavy to bake with so always combine it with other flours. Makes fabulous corn breads with a little potato starch or quinoa flour!

There are all sorts of bean flours. I am only going to mention the most common:

Garbanzo bean flour – High in protein, and it’s easy to use. Be warned it has a stronger taste so it works best mixed with other flours and can go rancid if not kept cool.

Fava bean flour – I don’t usually see this alone (although you can order it). Often it’s marketed as Garfava flour, a mixture of garbonzo and fava beans. It has a lot of protein and adds great structure to bread, but like Garbanzo bean flour, it has a stronger taste and turns rancid in less than ideal conditions.

Soy flour – I almost forgot to mention it. We don’t use it at our house as soy is a major allergen for us (and many others), but it is also high in protein and has a strong flavor like the bean flours, so go easy.

Starches – Not really known for their nutritional value, starches come in handy when you need some help binding ingredients and making your bread light enough to rise. There are some great commercially available breads out there that rely almost exclusively on starches. I struggle to use a lot of these because the last thing my kids need is empty calories – we need nutritional powerhouses in every bite. But on vacation and in a crunch they sure make life easier. Starches all are fabulous thickeners as well – use like corn starch in soups, sauces, and gravy.

Potato Starch – This is totally different than potato flour. It’s light and has a really “normal” taste. It does tend to get gummy if you use too much, but a 1/2 to 1 cup in a recipe can really lighten things up.

Corn Starch – Acts a lot like potato starch. It’s a great binder and smells great when cooked. Too much makes your bread gummy in the middle, but a bit here and there can make a big difference.

Tapioca Starch – Often called tapioca flour. A little bit of this goes a long ways. I find the best prices at local Asian markets that sell it in tiny packages. While you could never make an entire loaf from tapioca starch, I find I can’t bake without a cup or so in my recipe. It really helps hold things together, gives a nice flavor and lightens up a recipe.

Sweet rice flour – Can be used in place of sugar in some recipes. Be careful, a little goes a long way – but that is a good thing.

Arrowroot flour – I love this stuff but have a hard time finding it in our current home town. It is great to bake with and makes a fabulous thickener that doesn’t change the flavor. If you are fortunate to get a good deal on it, don’t pass it up!

Bonus tip- Flax seed (ground) – Okay, I know it’s not a flour, but adding a few tablespoons to a batch of bread or muffins adds a fabulous nutty flavor and a punch of omega 3s. It’s also a great egg-replacer. (See Replacing Eggs in Recipes.)

Tip #3 - Gluten-free dough is actually more like a batter.
This was hard to get used to after years of making wheat products - but as a rule, gluten-free breads generally turn out better if the dough is more like a cake batter. It just needs more moisture.

Tip #4 - Start small.
This was probably the best thing I learned from my mom. When we would make a batch of muffins or cookies the first time we would only cook a few of them. That way, if it just didn’t turn out, we could add more water, flour, xanthan gum, or whatever and have a chance of saving the batch. The other thing she taught me is to not be afraid to throw it out and start over if it really isn’t working. Really, on a tight budget, you will spend more time and money making a bigger mess out of your dough than you will by just getting rid of it and starting with a different recipe.

Tip#5 - Most of your old recipes will adapt well.
I spent years trying all these elaborate recipes I found in special cookbooks and on the internet. But the ones we like the best are the old stand-bys from our pre-gluten-free days. Once you find a mix of flours that work for you, add some xanthan or guar gum and a little extra moisture, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to cook gluten-free.

Tip #5 - You Are Not Alone.
That is the coolest thing about living in our generation. With the internet, we are all practically next-door neighbors. Maybe we can’t run and borrow a cup of buckwheat flour, but we can certainly share recipes and tips and struggles. Since our diagnosis 11 years ago we have lived in 3 states and 6 different towns and I have never been the only one. In fact, I am usually the first call for many as they find their children developing allergies. Today I can walk into most eating establishments and ask for a gluten-free menu, and the aisles of most markets have at least a handful of items marked gluten-free.

Some of my favorite sites include: (recipe section and check out the comments on many recipes, people post their adaptations for many allergies)
Google-groups and support groups are like life-lines when you are getting started, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. You’ll be surprised how many others have stood in your shoes – and you can always call on me – I’m happy and thrilled to help. I still remember how hard it was, worrying every day what I would feed my growing children, and working to educate teachers and family members and friends on a continual basis. But I am here to say that it works out, it is worth it, and my first-born, failure-to-thrive baby is now almost my height, a state-ranked competitive swimmer, and anything but malnourished.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Continuing to Raise Food Allergy Awareness

by Kelley Lindberg

Food Allergy Awareness Week was May 9 – 15. People all over the country participated in many ways – giving presentations to schools, making videos, reading food allergy books at library story-times, writing to their elected officials to support more funding, and so on. It was an exciting week!

But just because Food Allergy Awareness Week is over, that doesn’t mean we don’t spend the other 51 weeks of the year raising awareness, too. For most of us, it's a daily, ongoing educational process, teaching the people around us and our children what it means to live with food allergies. The more people understand how dangerous, pervasive, and common food allergies are, the better life will be for those who are food allergic.

To continue raising awareness about the danger of food allergies, the Food Allergy Initiative has created a video that punches home a single, critical idea:

Every 15 minutes, a child is rushed to the emergency room because of food allergies.
Watch the Food Allergy Initiative’s video here. It’s jarring. It’s emotional. It’s surprising. And it just might get through to some of those folks out there who don’t always seem to “get it.” (You know, the in-laws who think you’re making it up, or the aunt who just can’t seem to leave her favorite nut-covered cheese ball home at family parties.) Give it a look, then pass it on.

And keep spreading awareness. An aware society is a safer society.

That’s good for all of us.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reading Past the NY Times Headline

by Kelley Lindberg

This week, several friends have forwarded me the New York Times story, “Doubt Is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies.”

Stories like this make me sigh. On the one hand, the information in the story is accurate. On the other hand, the headline appears intended to fuel controversy, not spread helpful information. A better, more constructive headline would have been something like:

     “Think You Have Food Allergies? See a Specialist before Panicking”

or perhaps:

     “Diagnosing Food Allergies is Tricky – It May Take More Than a Skin Test.”

Many people think they have food allergies, while they probably have an intolerance or sensitivity instead – completely different diseases. For example, often people confuse lactose intolerance with a true milk allergy, yet they are completely different illnesses. With lactose intolerance, the body can’t digest milk proteins adequately. People with lactose intolerance can often tolerate small amounts of dairy, especially if it’s baked in something like bread. And they can often take a medication to help digest the milk proteins, which allows them to indulge in the occasional dairy treat. With a true milk allergy, the body’s immune system is involved, and medication can’t help. Lactose intolerance may give you an upset stomach, but it won’t send you into anaphylactic shock. A true milk allergy will.

And how many times have you heard someone complain that they’re allergic to cigarette smoke? It’s probably not a true allergy, but a different disease, such as reactive airway disease or asthma. It’s no less serious, but using the wrong name makes data difficult to track (leading to misleading reporting, like this article).

It’s also true that many general practice doctors are jumping on the bandwagon of skin-prick testing for everything, and calling any sign of a bump a positive test – end of discussion. General practitioners are great resources for many things – but you have to understand that they simply cannot have specialized, up-to-date knowledge about all possible human ailments. It’s not humanly possible to specialize in everything. They usually know a little bit about a lot of things. This can be vitally helpful when narrowing down possible causes of sickness and determining which type of specialist can help you further, but for anything as complicated and individual as food allergies, a board-certified allergist who keeps up with the latest allergy research, conferences, and journals is who you want to work with, not a busy general practitioner.

That’s because allergy testing is very much an art, not just a science. Interpreting results isn’t always cut-and-dried. Test results should be combined with careful analysis of the individual’s history, the family history, direct experiences, food challenges, and other aspects of your life that can help pinpoint exactly what is causing your problems.

I’ve met many people who are in the panicky “I’ve-just-been-diagnosed-and-I’m-allergic-to-everything!” stage. My first question is always “Who diagnosed you?” If it wasn’t a board-certified allergist, I strongly recommend they take the results to a board-certified specialist and continue digging. It’s not unheard of to have a positive skin-prick test to a food you’ve been eating without any problems. So eliminating the food without further research or testing may cause unnecessary stress at the grocery store or restaurant. Several of those people I’ve talked to have ended up working with an allergist and narrowing the list of what they’re really allergic to down to one, two, or three foods, making it easier to manage and less overwhelming. This might not hold true for everyone, but it’s common enough that it’s worth digging deeper.

So I think it’s important to find an allergist you trust and really work with him or her to get to the bottom of your true allergies.

The other interesting point in this article is its statistics, which may very well get lost in the “See? Those food allergy nutcases are making it all up” controversy:
  • “While there is no doubt that people can be allergic to certain foods, with reproducible responses ranging from a rash to a severe life-threatening reaction, the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.”
ONLY 8% in children? The more usual statistics that get quoted are 3 – 5%. So while I often tell people that about 1 out of every 20 kids is estimated to have a food allergy, this article says it’s closer to 3 out of every 25. That’s three in every classroom, instead of one in every classroom.

The article’s wording sounds like it’s pooh-poohing the incidence of food allergies, but then it tosses out a pretty high percentage rate as if it’s nothing.

So… Here’s what we should take away from this article. Diagnosing food allergies is difficult and varies from individual to individual, so find yourself an allergist certified by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI) to help you find out if you’re really suffering from food allergies and how to deal with them if you are. (Click here to search for a board-certified allergist on the AAAAI website). And don’t let people tell you food allergies are a hoax. Even this article’s statistics are alarming, despite its misdirecting headline.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Who Eats Pasta or Bread in Italy, Anyway?

by Kelley Lindberg

As you know if you read my earlier post about discovering my son is allergic to lupin flour ("Lupin Allergy in Europe"), I was a little worried about how extensive the use of lupin flour is in Europe, since we were headed to Paris and Italy for a two-week vacation.

Well, we’ve now made it there and back safely, but here’s the thing: I’m still not sure how wide-spread the use of lupin flour is in Europe.

We asked about lupin flour in every restaurant we visited in Paris in along Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately, most of the restaurateurs didn’t know what ingredients were in their bread because they got their bread from a bakery, and there was no way to check ingredients. Some people didn’t understand what lupin flour was. Others had heard of lupin flour, but just didn’t know if it was in their bread. Because some had heard of it, I can assume that it’s used at least somewhat frequently in Italy, but I really didn’t get a sense of how wide-spread its use is. We didn’t encounter any lupin in the pastas we tried.

The grocery stores near our villa were tiny, with extremely limited selections of pasta and pre-packaged breads. Neither the pasta nor the sandwich bread I found listed lupin flour as an ingredient, but I was able only able to find one or two brands of each. (Sandwich breads mostly had nut warnings – I only found one brand that had no nut warnings.)

Allergy information was generally listed on everything that had labels, so that was reassuring. But anything that came from a bakery was problematic, just as it is here in the United States. That meant we avoided things like pizza (the few places we asked didn’t know what was in their pizza dough, because it came from elsewhere and wasn’t labeled), and I got in the habit of packing my son a sandwich that I made in the villa before we left on all-day outings (after that day in Pompeii when his lunch ended up being a can of Pringles and a soda).

Although lunch stops were challeng-ing, we had much better luck in nice restau-rants for dinner. Maybe it’s because most of the places we ate were family-owned and there was an obvious sense of ownership pride in them, but we found several restaurants where the owners, chefs, and waiters would bend over backwards to make my son’s dinner safe.

My best investment before we left was to buy allergy translation cards from These wallet-sized laminated cards say “I have a life-threatening allergy to…” in whatever language you order. I handed the card to a waiter, then he would take it to the owner/chef, who would invariably come over to my son and carefully talk him through the items they could make safe for him. Sometimes they’d stick with what was already on the menu, but others would suggest combinations of things that weren’t on the menu. They really made him feel special and safe.

When we found a place like that, we tended to go back two or three times, and they would recognize him and welcome him back. He soaked up the royal treatment! The owner-chef at Cucina Casereccia da Vincenzo, on our third visit, offered him a completely new treat for free: octopus and calamari. He was so enamored with this woman who’d been pampering him for days that he tried it and LIKED it. If I had tried to get him to eat octopus anywhere else, I don’t think he’d have tried it. But for this chef who was taking such good care of him, he scarfed it down!

We made it through the two weeks without any allergic reactions. We did limit his exposure by preparing breakfast and most lunches in the villa, and we cooked several dinners in the villa, too. (We didn’t do that just for him. We did it to save money and our waist-lines, too, and because cooking with the fresh produce from the neighborhood market was so much fun -- look at those giant lemons and those baby artichokes!) But when we went out, we relied on those SelectWisely cards to help eliminate accidental contamination.

So despite the fact that he couldn’t eat pizza in Italy (is that legal?), he can’t wait to go back and experience the history, the scenery, and those friendly Italian restaurateurs. His next destination, he tells me, is Sardinia. Guess I’d better start saving my Euros!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lemon Gelato – A Scoop of Italian Heaven

by Kelley Lindberg

Buon giorno! (Good day!)

I’m back from my trip to Italy (with a brief stop in Paris), and I have eight million photos to prove it! Lucky for you, I won’t post them all. Maybe just a couple…

Our trip was, of course, fantastic in every way. We spent a day and a half in Paris seeing the usual sites (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe).
Then we spent ten days in a 100-year-old villa in the tiny historic town of Positano, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast (just south of Naples).

We spent our days wandering up and down the Amalfi Coast, visiting places like Pompeii and Herculaneum – both cities were buried under so much ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that the houses, buildings, streets, and other structures were incredibly well preserved. Today you can stroll through Roman-era houses with painted frescoes still on the wall, mosaic floors still brilliantly colored and intricate, public bars with their terra cotta wine vats still intact, and even gardens still boasting their reflecting pools, columns, and statues.

It was an incredible experience for my son, too. It’s one thing to read about history in a book. It’s quite another to wander through an ancient, excavated Pompeiian shop and see the containers that held Roman “fast food” and signs still painted on the walls advertising everything from politics to wine prices. 

My son loved every minute of it – even if it seemed at first that he was destined not to indulge in any Italian gelato. He was really looking forward to Italian gelato. (My fault: I’ve been telling him for years that Italian ice cream is the best in the world!) But most of the gelaterias we encountered were cross-contamination nightmares. All the flavors were in small bins very close to each other, and the fanciest places piled their bins high with the frozen treat, topping them with real pistachios, hazelnuts, and other hazards.

Eventually, though, we did manage to find two or three gelaterias where my son could indulge. Fortunately, his favorite flavor is lemon, and lemon doesn’t get double-dipped with nutty flavors very often. So when we found a gelateria close to our villa where the proprietor made an effort to serve him an uncontaminated scoop of lemon gelato, we quickly found ourselves making repeat visits there (sometimes twice a day!). We also found a place in Amalfi that served nothing but lemon flavors of gelato. The owner claimed he used lemons from his own trees (the Amalfi Coast is famous for its lemons) and promised there were no nuts in the whole place. My son was in heaven!

Here’s a photo of him enjoying his very first gelato limone.

Next week, I’ll tell you about our experience finding safe breads and pastas. (Sneak preview: I’m still not certain how wide-spread the use of lupin flour is!)